(Yokohama, July 14th, 2014)
At the international level, sociology is obliged to address, at present, the greatest challenge, that it has ever been compelled to face. Our discipline cannot be accused of scarce perspicacity for not having forecast and specified occurrences now taking place within various nations and which, at the global level, are creating the conditions for increasingly unsustainable situations as far as issues of economy, ecology, employment, democracy and freedom are concerned.
The perverse outcome of this state of affairs is that sociology, instead of predicting events (as a tendency at least) finds itself obliged to pay the consequences, without having had the possibility of avoiding them. The fact is that there has been a considerable decrease in the availability of funds, which leads, in turn, to an ensuing reduction in the possibility of conducting research. The ultimate result of all this is that even didactics risks becoming outmoded because without scholarly enquiry, teaching is reduced to a mere repetition of increasingly obsolescent theories and methodologies. Overall, this means that sociology’s destiny is to become marginalised and turned simply into a tool used only for market research or political opinion polls. In reality, there are exceptions in the form of research results and publications obtained, thanks to the initiatives fostered by the research committees of the International Sociological Association as well as of the national and regional sociological associations. However, also here, the serious problem of communicating and making the results visible and accessible arises. Regarding this, an immense effort needs to be made to improve communications not only within the field of sociology but in the global setting as well. This therefore signifies that the ISA needs a veritable press and public relations office capable of attracting the attention of the national and international mass media, as well as inform of the most significant results achieved by the sociological sciences. This commitment will not yield instant results but rather, it will achieve long-term effects in the end. The sector requires considerable time, experience, and the skill of first-class specialists and qualified professionals, endowed with consolidated know how in order to thrive.
Our association possesses particularly extraordinary potential, such as considerable cultural, social, human, scientific, and organisational capital unequalled elsewhere within the field of the social sciences. All of this needs to be exploited, availing not only of the passion of the presidency but also of the participation of all (nobody excluded) whatever the degree or level of responsibility. We are all capable of sowing the seeds and reaping the harvest of success, but it is often hard for us to access the factors underscoring these achievements. At times, we become aware of them only years later. Often others eventually collect the fruit.
To achieve this and other common goals we need to unite our already consistent strengths, which still require coordination. It suffices to recall the separation existing at present between research committees, working, and thematic groups, national and regional associations, and the editorial staff of association journals, which need to establish closer relations between each other. This would be useful to promote specific meetings, lasting collaborations, and agile infrastructures sustained economically on the base of precise projects privileged in the light of our association’s institutional purposes.
Compared to other organisational dynamics, it emerges that the very atmosphere of commonly shared experience affects profoundly upon scholarly and collaborative endeavours. In other words, even shared conviviality, in the highest and broadest sense, has a positively decisive effect on the success of innovative proposals. All told, rather than large-scale meetings of thousands of people, smaller gatherings of about a hundred scholars are to be preferred, because these provide the concrete possibility of first-hand, face-to-face exchanges unhampered by factors of either space or time.
An increasingly widespread, professed and practiced sociology is a useful antidote against the numerous conflict-generating thrusts the planet is experiencing at present. Sociology knows social dynamics well and thus can foster an understanding of complex national and regional realities, offer suggestions aimed at solving the various conflicts taking place, and then study and propose ways of maintaining permanent peace, which is the fundamental premise for the promotion of democracy even in places where it is denied, limited, and conditioned.
Scholarly neutrality is not tantamount to insensitivity but rather, it is mandatory that it avoids influence by ideological reference parameters. Neutrality helps all of us achieve greater cognizance and self-awareness of the issues examined. Even when negotiating and accepting shared solutions, however distressful this may prove to those involved, sociologists are capable of finding the most appropriate tools and means by which to prevent the solutions from being harmful to individual responsibility and autonomy. In this sense one can only auspicate that the exponents of international sociology make their voices heard, avoiding merely surface equilibrisms or relinquish their duty towards the international community. There are several largely acknowledged and generally accepted points and values that can be voiced by means of a manifesto-memorandum regarding the rights and duties of sociologists. Some attempts to this regard have turned out to be somewhat unrealistic and limited in contextual scope and are numerically negligible as well. In contrast, the strength of an association like the ISA when operating in conjunction with other international bodies, permits it to attain its very best and become the spokesperson for those millions of people who lack a voice within the community of nations.
It is necessary to look to the increasingly complicated and differentiated future, now so strongly conditioned by technology. While it is necessary to concentrate some investments within this area too, it is important do not make the mistake of subcontracting everything to technocrats.
The association’s task is also that of promoting new topics of research, without too many restrictive rules, which would only discourage and hinder the development of other promising activities. An international association should be in a position to favour the creation of study groups that do not enjoy favourable social, political, and economic conditions. In this sense, total openness is crucial.
The horizons, towards which it is necessary to look, should neither have territorial nor intellectual boundaries. Scholarship is an activity characterised by attention and curiosity, by sensitivity and a 360-degree exploration range. Hindering freedom of research is tantamount to reducing the incidence of sociology itself within the present-day reality.
Finally, one of ISA’s prime concerns should be that of prioritizing the engrafting and spread of sociology, especially in those countries where the discipline is not even known and still underdeveloped. In this sense, one thinks principally of particular contexts awaiting our support.
In olden times, farmers exchanged seeds in order to improve their production. Something similar can take place within the area of sociology too. The sociologists of the world may find themselves more frequently exchanging knowledge to foster a more balanced kind of development within all of our social communities.